First Day Superman And Biblical Texts

DNJamesBond41"Doubtlessly you are asking yourself what I'm doing in a post on Superman and Jesus..."

Mi amigo Mark Evanier (who runs a tasty blog; you should try it) recently posted four articles that illustrate a point that needs to be made re Biblical texts.  So, Superman / pop culture fans, everything after the jump is gonna be boring religious stuff; jes’ thot I’d tip you off…

Without cribbing too much of Mark’s well written material, here’s the gist of his four posts:

Everybody is pretty much in agreement that the first time a living human being ever donned a blue union suit & red cape w/matching trunks & boots to play Superman was on July 3, 1940 at the New York World’s Fair.  They tried to make every day a ballyhoo day of some sort at the fair, and since Superman had made such an astounding impression when he first appeared in 1939, the character & comic book were deemed suitable subjects for tribute.

But who was that Superman?  For many years it was assumed Broadway actor Ray Middleton had played Superman because Middleton was a tall, good looking guy who also appeared at the fair that day to judge a physical fitness competition.  This is supported by a New York Times article that mentions both Superman and Middleton, and is written in such a way as to suggest the reporter was playing along with the gag that nobody knows who Superman really is (the accuracy of the reportage is in doubt since the article mentions Superman having a red helmet!).

But people who know their Broadway show people make a pretty convincing case that it isn’t Middleton seen in the photos of Superman taken that day.

More evidence which at first supports the Middleton claim is in the form of a first day issue envelope addressed to Mr. James Bond (!) of Midwest, Wyoming that appears to show a color photo of the actor / male model / derelict-bum-recruited-for-a-fifth-of-bourbon playing Superman and a brief paragraph explaining Ray Middleton played Superman in a live radio broadcast from the fair.

At first this seems to suggest that Ray Middleton is the man in costume in the photo, but when you analyze what the paragraph actually says, it doesn’t link him to the guy in tights at all:  It only states Middleton played Superman in a radio broadcast (which would hardly require a costume) and doesn’t even verify the color photo of Superman was taken at the World’s Fair.

But wait!  There’s more!  It seems much of the info on the envelope was added later; there actually was a Superman first day issue from the World’s Fair, but the photo and paragraph explaining Middleton’s connection were not part of the original first day issue.  (Compounding the mystery is a postage date of October 20, 1940 and an addressee that seems too good to be true; tho bland generically named Midwest, Wyoming turns out to be a real town.)

So who the guy in the photo & home movie is remains a mystery today.

But one thing everybody can agree on is this: On July 3, 1940 somebody climbed into costume and played Superman in front of tens of thousands of people.

(You really ought to visit Mark’s blog and check this story out; he tells it much better & in far greater detail than I do.)

So what has all this got to do with the Bible?

Wishful thinking of militant atheists (or more properly, anti-theists) aside, nobody doubts that the bulk of the people and events mentioned in the Bible actually existed or occurred, though debate rages as to exactly who they were and exactly what occurred regarding each recorded event.

You don’t have to be a fundamentalist to agree that there was an itinerant radical rabbi in the first century AD who made a lot of friends and almost as many enemies.

For all the claims of the Bible being perfect and complete, we know that is not so.

There is no complete version of the Torah in the original Hebrew; what exists today are translations back into Hebrew from a Greek translation of (presumably) the now lost original Hebrew text.

There are hundreds if not thousands of copies of the Gospels from the first three centuries AD, and while there are no major theological differences among them, there are variances in the order of some of the stories & teachings, and other places where new material or editorial commentary was clearly added later.

We do not know who some of the authors of the various books of the Bible are.  Some books are attributed to certain people, but supporting evidence is thin.[1]

Some books (those of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles) are written by anonymous historians; how soon after the events described we do not know.

For many parts of the Bible we have no idea how the information was transmitted, or who decided what to include in their final draft.  A plain text reading of Genesis, for instance, would indicate that everything reported as happening before Noah’s flood could only come to us through Noah, who may have had his own reasons for reporting things the way he did.

To claim that the Bible is absolutely 100% complete and literally true[2] creates contradictions and paradoxes, much like the sloppy news reporting and doctored envelope have done with the “Who first played Superman?” question.

But to say the Bible represents with reasonable accuracy and reliability certain basic underlying truths is like saying the contradictory and partially fabricated evidence re Superman support their own basic underlying truth:  That somebody at that time stood up with a big red S on his chest and was the first to do so.

Exactly who he was, and exactly what happened on that day may forever remain in doubt, but there is no question something happened and whatever that something was, published accounts and supporting evidence -- despite errors -- only reinforce it, not undermine it.

I’ve said it before, I will say it again:

Facts are the house; Truth is the home




[1]  In fairness, the Old Testament doesn’t refer to the Torah as being books by Moses but rather books of Moses; i.e., associated with him for whatever reason.

[2]  Which kind of flies in the face of Bible verses that refer readers to extra-Biblical sources, or explicitly state that only a fraction of what occurred was written down.

Noah Didn’t, Abraham Kinda, Moses Did

This Week's Kneeslapper